Radio-carbon dating reveals that Machu Picchu is older than previously thought

Archaeologists have used advanced radio-carbon dating on the historic Inca site of Machu Picchu, revealing that the site was founded earlier than previously thought.

Machu Picchu was an Inca citadel, built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui near the Sacred Valley, located in the present-day Urubamba Province of Peru.

Historical records suggest that Pachacuti rose to power in AD 1438, and proceeded to conquer the surrounding regions around the Kingdom of Cusco which he transformed into the Inca Empire. As such, the consensus for the foundation of Machu Picchu was thought to be after AD 1440, perhaps as late as AD 1450.

Professor Richard Burger from Yale University said: “Machu Picchu is among the most famous archaeological sites in the world, but until now, estimates of its antiquity, and the length of its occupation were based on contradictory historical accounts written by Spaniards in the period following the Spanish conquest.”

- Advertisement -

To answer some of these contradictions, a multi-institutional team conducted accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) to date 26 burials found at the three cemeteries in Machu Picchu. The quantity of burials was chosen to reflect the extent of the occupational history of the site.

AMS dating is an advanced form of radiocarbon dating that can date skeletons with only small amounts of organic material left, expanding the pool of remains that can be examined.

“This is the first study based on scientific evidence to provide an estimate for the founding of Machu Picchu and the length of its occupation,” said Professor Burger.

The AMS study revealed that Machu Picchu was occupied from AD 1420 to 1530 (the latter around the time the Spanish invaded the Inca Empire). This means that the site was in use over 20 years earlier than assumed, and indicates that Pachacuti ascended to the throne and began his conquests much earlier than accepted historical records indicate.
“The results suggest that the discussion of the development of the Inca empire based primarily on colonial records requires revision,” said Professor Burger, “modern radiocarbon methods provide a better foundation for understanding Inca chronology than the contradictory historical records.” Find out more


Header Image Credit – Public Domain

- Advertisement -
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is an award winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education and the BCA Medal of Honour.

Mobile Application


Related Articles

Mosaic depicting lions found at ancient Prusias ad Hypium

Archaeologists have uncovered a mosaic depicting lions during excavations at ancient Prusias ad Hypium, located in modern-day Konuralp, Turkey.

Survey finds 18 km Maya sacbé using LiDAR

An archaeological survey conducted by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), has identified an 18 km sacbé linking the Maya cities of Uxmal and Kabah in the Puuc region of western Yucatan, Mexico.

Clusters of ancient qanats discovered in Diyala

An archaeological survey has identified three clusters of ancient qanats in the Diyala Province of Iraq.

16,800-year-old Palaeolithic dwelling found in La Garma cave

Archaeologists have discovered a 16,800-year-old Palaeolithic dwelling in the La Garma cave complex, located in the municipality of Ribamontán al Monte in Spain’s Cantabria province.

Burials found in Maya chultun

Archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) have uncovered burials within a chultun storage chamber at the Maya city of Ek' Balam.

Archaeologists analyse medieval benefits system

Archaeologists from the University of Leicester have conducted a study in the main cemetery of the hospital of St. John the Evangelist, Cambridge, to provide new insights into the medieval benefits system.

Major archaeological discoveries in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania

In an announcement by the State Office for Culture and Monument Preservation (LAKD), archaeologists excavating in the German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania have uncovered seven Bronze Age swords, 6,000 silver coins, and two Christian reliquary containers.

Early humans hunted beavers 400,000-years-ago

Researchers suggests that early humans were hunting, skinning, and eating beavers around 400,000-years-ago.